This cookbook has the honor of being The First. The first cookbook I fell in love with, the first cookbook I bought with my own money (and at a time in my life when a $35 cookbook constituted a major purchase!), and the first cookbook that brought me success in the kitchen. It would not be stretching it to say that this book is at the root of my food writing career — had those gingersnaps not been so very perfect or that first strawberry-rhubarb pie not been such a smash hit in those first tenuous days of falling in love with food, who knows where I might have ended up?
I first got this book from the library and I remember thinking, "Good God! I can make anything!" I couldn't believe all the recipes compiled in one place: buttermilk biscuits and Christmas cookies, key lime pie and crusty loaves of ciabatta, rye crackers and layer cakes. There were tutorials on how to make your pie crusts flaky or tender, and long explanations for using bread proofing baskets. The long list of equipment and ingredients — along with how to shop for and use them — felt like discovering a secret baking Rosetta stone.
These were the dark days between the demise of high school home ec but before food blogs took over the internet, and I felt like I had finally found my entryway into the kitchen. Suddenly, recipes made sense to me like they never had before. I loved (and still love) the way the Baker's Companion takes the time to explain recipes — the thinking behind them, why you might use butter or shortening, pitfalls to watch out for and what to do if something doesn't go right. The hand-drawn illustrations showing steps seem so rudimentary now, but at the time (before SLR-wielding bloggers, remember!), they were a far cry better than fumbling about on my own.
Flipping through the book now, I'm rather amazed by how many recipes I've made over the years. Even more amazing: not a single one has failed. Some I liked better than others, to be sure, but I never felt let down.
The King Arthur gingersnaps are still some of my favorite cookies ever — they're sparkly little two-bite wonders that I find perfectly chewy and endlessly satisfying. If you fear pie crusts, I also recommend a study session with their chapter on pies. It will give you the knowledge and the confidence you need. A few other favorites: Zephyr Pancakes (as light and melting-tender as promised), Zucchini Lemon Muffins (the first summer I joined a CSA), Peach and Raspberry Cobbler (a good baby step toward pie-making), picnic wraps (my first foray into flatbreads), and ciabatta (my first foray into artisan breads).
This is the book I recommend whenever I hear that a friend or someone's daughter or a random Facebook connection wants to "start baking more." It's not as flashy or glossy or full of brazenly inventive recipes as other baking books out there, but it is a staunch and knowledgeable companion. Years and years after I returned my library copy and scrounged up the money to buy my own, it is still my favorite.
Oh, P.S. if you do buy this book, I recommend springing for the hardback. If your cookbook is facing the kind of life my cookbook has faced, you're going to want it in some sturdy binding.
Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion by King Arthur Flour
• Visit the author's website: King Arthur Flour
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